Shortstop is arguably the strongest it’s ever been offensively in the history of baseball. With Turner, Tatis, and Bichette all in the top 5 picks, it certainly has outrageous top-end talent, but the position is also surprisingly deep, with many all-around assets and high-upside youngsters available throughout the draft. It’s for that reason that it is absolutely imperative that you don’t dare draft a dud.
The opportunity cost and value lost could sink your season! Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have some nerdy statistical arguments that might help you see through the haze of hype and hopium. The ADPs I list are from NFBC as of January 1st, 2022 to more accurately reflect where they’ve been going in recent drafts. Onto the list!
2021 Stats: .290 AVG, 33 HR, 99 R, 97 RBI, 29 SB in 564 PA in AA & AAA
I hate to cast aspersions on prospects as much as the next guy. Okay, I’ll admit I don’t know who this “next guy” is and maybe he loves trashing prospects. But I think it’s important to be cautious when others are greedy, and Witt’s 30-30 campaign in 2021 has managers salivating. I think it’s definitely exciting that he will likely have a chance out of the gate to contribute, but his current ADP of 92 is bananas, considering we have no idea how he’ll fare at the major league level (no I’m not counting Spring Training). He could have a highly successful rookie season and still not reach the value of a #91 pick, and the risk of him disappointing is simply so much higher than other established players at this point of the draft who offer roughly similar 2022 upside.
His 23% K% rate across Double-A and Triple-A could easily become approach 30% in the majors, and despite Royals’ tendency for giving the green light on the base paths, minor league SB success still doesn’t always translate to immediate MLB SB totals. Speaking of tendencies, tell me the last time the Royals developed an elite hitting prospect into a superstar. Tricky, no? He certainly has first-round potential, but it’s hard to justify taking him when another high-upside power/speed play, the gargantuan Oneil Cruz, is still twiddling his thumbs at an ADP of #214. I hope Witt has a great season, but I’ll enjoy it from the sidelines while someone else snags him, someone who has probably never heard of Brandon Wood.
2021 Stats: .254 AVG, 20 HR, 92 R, 73 RBI, 13 SB in 582 PA
He was a key cog for the Dodgers in 2021, but it’s not cogent to buy into his skyrocketing draft price. Given the many Dodgers’ departures, he is looking quite likely to start the year as a regular for the first time in awhile, but I still wouldn’t be surprised for a new acquisition or Lux to push him back to his rather typecast utility role. I also expect some moderate regression, as his strong line of .254/.344/.438 was not supported by Statcast with a more dodgy .237 xBA and .422 xSLG. Steamer seems aware as well as his projection of .244/.330/.415 with 18 HR and 9 SB certainly is not deserving of a top 200 pick, much lest top 150.
Although there is some hope with career-high double-digit barrel rates the past couple years, part of this seems to be a concerted effort to hit more fly balls, with a career-high 42% FB% and 46% pull. While this could help him near the 20-homer mark again given a full season, it makes him a potential batting average liability, and I’d rather bet on someone with more upside than the 31-year-old. I’d rather roll the dice on a Gleyber bounceback or Luis Urias.
2021 Stats: .264 AVG, 11 HR, 69 R, 44 RBI, 9 SB in 550 PA
He can do a little bit of everything, but rather poorly… his team role is futility man. Sure, he was a mainstay of 15-teamers and deep leagues with a .264 AVG, .341 OBP, 11 HR and 9 SB in 550 PA and multi-positional eligibility. That’s not so bad! The problem is, it was very lucky, and his Statcast metrics are so frosty that if he doesn’t change something, he may not reach double-digit homers again. His 105 mph max exit velocity ranked 205 out of 207 major leaguers, only ahead of Luis Arraez and Tony Kemp. And unlike Arraez and Kemp, he’s not even contact-oriented, with a 25% K% that is only acceptable for a power hitter.
Rojas is a bit more valuable in OBP leagues with his typical double-digit walk rate, though I wouldn’t be surprised if his patience is punished with more challenge strikes given his batted-ball meekness. Statcast considered him to be among the luckiest players in the game, with a much more pathetic-looking .236 xBA and .356 xSLG. He’s currently be drafted at a #224 ADP, which I feel is at least 50 to 100 picks too high. If you’re in need of a Josh-of-all-trades, I’d rather roll the dice on Josh Jung (#291), Josh Harrison (#348), or Luis “Josh” Arraez (#315).
2021 Stats: .300 AVG, 2 HR, 78 R, 43 RBI, 22 SB in 565 PA
I thought about writing up Nicky Lopez as a potential bust, but then I was like, “Why would I want to trash someone going outside the first 300 picks? And then I saw where he was going. Call me Adrian, because I’m taking Little Nicky down with me. I get that batting average and stolen bases are scarce, and here’s a guy who hit .300 and stole 22 bases in 565 PA in 2021, and a crazy .330 with 14 of his SB coming in the second half. But let’s keep our senses about ourselves here. He also hit 2 home runs, and there’s not any reason to think he can maintain this kind of production in 2022, especially already entering his age-27 season. For one, his batting average, this basis of much of his value, is basically a sham. It was aided by a .347 BABIP, which you might assume he deserves because he’s fast and doesn’t strike out a lot, with a 14% rate in 2021.
But he hits the ball so softly that he vastly outperformed his expected stats, which were belied by Statcast’s brutal .239 xBA and .304 xSLG. While it is true that Statcast doesn’t factor in Sprint Speed so it’s a bit too harsh, Lopez is likely to still regress to a .250-.260 AVG with a good 28.2 ft/sec (79th percentile) that’s tied with Jose Ramirez but also Bobby Dalbec (bet you didn’t see that coming!) But the real question is, well maybe his stats were dragged down by his bad first half before he clicked and became a better hitter… right? Not really. His weak HardHit% of 25% in the 1st half remained at 25% for in the 2nd half, and his rolling xwOBA over his last 250 PA stayed below league average. Actually, if anything, it was trending slightly down. He has almost no barrels, with a 0.7 Barrel%.
The Royals could keep having him run, but with no power, he almost needs to overperform to hold a lineup spot and not become a utility/pinch runner type. He’s less likely to be a younger Tommy Edman than he is a younger Tony Kemp. I would not be surprised if he was out of a full-time role by midseason, but hey, I’d love for Little Nicky to prove me wrong and bring me Popeye’s Chicken too.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@palmerguyboston on twitter)